25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Let’s Talk Only About Hams
Yes, I know Lino will like this and the guys at the Sausage Factory too, and so will Chico and all the other guys who deal with hams, for it is Christmas and it is the time for those delicious succulent hams and those well smoked hams, and all the fine gatherings at home where hams are the delight of everyone. First of all, who does not like ham?
Twenty five years ago you knew Christmas was near when you saw those salted hams in crocus bags hanging from the ceiling of the stores. Pretty soon you would see some hanging from the ceiling of the homes in the village. A few ladies made it their point of duty to hang it right by the door so that people passing by would notice the ham or hams and know that the family would be having a fat Christmas.
The shop keeper made it a point of duty to call on all friends and villagers to inform them of the arrival of hams and for them to lay aside their order. Most people lay aside two hams, one for Christmas and one for the New Year, that is, if they could afford it.b
Now these hams were salted and smoked hams that required no refrigeration. When you opened the sack, it was covered in a mesh-like material, sort of like a net. It was covered with a moldy looking material, so much that it looked like it had spoiled, but it was not. That was the normal look.
You had to scrape it off for some ten minutes before it was clean and ready to process. Most people boiled them for two hours to soften the hams and to remove the excess salt. This ham was ready to be sliced into your favorite sandwich. Others still punched some cloves into them and then baked the ham for another hour or so, occasionally covering the ham with some melted brown sugar, or pineapple juice. Again this ham required no refrigeration after being baked, if it was consumed in two or three days, which was usually the case.
The skin of the ham made an excellent ceviche. It would be sliced and seasoned with lime, raw onions, cilantro, and some hot peppers. It went well with beers or drinks as a spicy ceviche. The bone, with some meat to it, was reserved for the following week when it would be cooked into a pot of beans. This too enhanced the flavor of the beans, giving you a delicious Christmas beans.
Now hams were a special delicacy when people could barely afford them. In the mid 1960, when Caribeña fishing cooperative was in its peak, the cooperative would give two or three hams per member and some households had up to six hams for the season. This was more than could be consumed. Then again there were no doctors to tell us about cholesterol so we ate ham like crazy and so did we eat salted fish throughout the year.
Today you can get hams throughout the year. The Sausage Factory can fix you up in different styles, and Lino’s and Chico’s can offer you the Belizean hams too. If you worry about the doctor, perhaps you will not consume hams, but if you care about a fat and pleasant Christmas you will go for it. After all, if cholesterol doesn’t kill you, something else will. Have a Happy, Hammy Christmas!